News analysis

The early
  • Car company Volkswagen and whiskey maker Jameson both released false statements in March, which they later said were April Fool's attempts.
  • After a share price plunge and widespread anger, Volkswagen apologised for its "Voltswagen" name-change hoax.
  • Those behind Jameson's South African "Beatha skin care range" on Thursday celebrated making people mad by putting out false information nearly a week before 1 April.
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German carmaker Volkswagen this week apologised for a set of false statements around a name change to "Voltswagen", saying it had been an attempt at an April Fool's joke.

But whiskey brand Jameson in South Africa celebrated a similar incident instead, with those behind it celebrating making people mad – by disseminating an untruth nearly a week before 1 April.

On 29 March, Volkswagen in the USA announced a name change to reflect its electric car ambitions, after complaining for some time that it does not receive the same kind of attention as fellow car company Tesla. Publications and the public almost universally took the announcement at face value – and many people poured new investment money into the company, making for massive swings in its value.

It is not yet clear if Volkswagen will face action by regulators for misleading investors. Companies often join in on April Fool's pranks, but typically confine their jokes to 1 April, following the widely accepted rule that a prank must start and end on the day to qualify for an exemption from simply being a lie.

Where Volkswagen apologised, Jameson celebrated.

On 26 March the booze-maker announced it had launched a skincare range named "Beatha", which it described as "made with the highest quality grain Jameson whiskey, barley (which has many amazing benefits for skin and hair) and quality skin ingredients".

The announcement was accepted at face value by a radio show, a men's magazine, a women's magazine, a business publication – and Business Insider South Africa.

Jameson promised to answer questions around its plans, but instead on Thursday announced the statement had been false, and part of the launch of a comedy show due to start on 17 April.

In a later press release, the company said it had learnt lessons during the Covid-19 pandemic – a time when misinformation was much debated.

"Consumers are demanding of brands to be a lot more authentic in their communications and deliverables which we believe has been something we have listened to and started to integrate in our marketing efforts across the board," the company quoted Beatrice Marfleet, marking manager of Jameson and irish whiskey, saying with no apparent irony.

Jameson and its agency RAPT Creative did not answer questions from Business Insider South Africa. Instead it issued a brief statement saying it "welcomes the varied responses we have received to the announcement of April Fools Day."

"We are confident that this campaign followed all the necessary channels to ensure safety and compliance in order to deliver its mandate," it said.

On social media, those involved in the campaign celebrated that it had "stressed" South Africans, and had made people "so mad". 

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